by Matteo Morelli
Finland welcomed back a Grand Prix event after last hosting one in 2018. Grand Prix of Espoo, that replaced Rostelecom Cup, was the last event of the series and closed all the qualifications for the Grand Prix Final, with Canada’s Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier and USA’s Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker securing the remaining two spots available.
The rhythm dance ended with several season bests and personal bests achieved by the teams that skated on the mandatory Latin style for this season.
Finland’s Yuka Orihara and Juho Pirinen entertained the local audience with their rhythm dance, scoring 69.13, a season best. They really enjoyed skating in a rink that they are very familiar with, and shared that they could feel all the love coming from the public.
China’s Shiyue Wang and Xinyu Liu were overall happy with their rhythm dance, although they know that more work needs to be done.
“We know we can improve our rhythm dance,” Wang shared. “It is not an easy one, but we will keep working on it to show what we can do.”
Czech Republic’s Natalie Taschlerova and Filip Taschler were overall satisfied with their engaging programme based on music by Shakira and Enrique Iglesias.
“We love performing this rhythm dance a lot, in fact sometimes we get too much into it!,” Taschlerova said.
After the not so successful rhythm dance they had at Grand Prix de France, Finland’s Juulia Turkkila and Matthias Versluis could redeem themselves delivering a personal best in front of their home audience and finishing in fourth place.
“We were a bit shaky at the beginning, but then towards the end we really loosened up and tried to enjoy the home audience as much as possible,” Versluis said.
“We know this rink very well, it feels so comfortable for us to skate here,” Turkkila added.
USA’s Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko ended in third place with a season best of 76.20.
“We are really happy with today’s performances, we wanted to come in and capitalise from the momentum we created in Sheffield a few weeks ago”, Ponomarenko said.
“We had a short period of time between the two grand prix events, we wanted to settle in the programme, grow the speed and performance and keep improving,” Carreira added. “We were really excited when we learned Latin was the style for this year, we both really like it.”
At their second appearance on Espoo ice in six weeks (after Finlandia Trophy), Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker secured a season best and personal best with 80.93 and a second place finish.
“We really enjoyed the performance and we wanted to find special moments for one another within it,” Hawayek said. “We have received really positive feedback about the characters that we infuse into the programme, and we changed the lift to portray those characters even more, receiving better GOEs.”
Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier took the lead in the rhythm dance with a score of 87.80, a new personal best for them.
“We try not to focus on the scores this season. The elements are different and it is difficult to compare,” Poirier added.
“Coming back from skate Canada we wanted to up the level, and today’s performance took a lot of mental fortitude,” Gilles shared. “We settled in and gave everything we have, we are really happy with the development of the programme.”
“This is the third time we do Latin for the short dance,” Poirier shared. “We really wanted to take a different approach to it, do something more sophisticated and ballroom feeling, and by far this is the time I have enjoyed skating Latin the most in my career.”
The free dance saw some changes of positions from the rhythm dance results.
A mistake on the rotational lift for Shiyue Wang and Xinyu Liu meant they could not equal the score they received at NHK Trophy and they dropped a couple of places overall.
A mesmerising performance from Yuka Orihara and Juho Pirinen allowed them to secure another season best with 104.04 points for their free programme and climb up one place in the overall final ranking.
Natalie Taschlerova and Filip Taschler delivered a solid skate on their programme that sends a message about our planet and nature. They secured 111.79 points for it and a new personal best, ending with an overall total of 186.39.
Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko’s classy ‘Summertime’ programme score was slightly higher than what they achieved in Sheffield, but that wasn’t enough to retain their third place on the podium.
Juulia Turkkila and Matthias Versluis really felt their free programme based on a piano sonata by Schubert and earned a personal best of 116.73 and overall 191.79 points, allowing them to get a historic first grand prix medal in ice dance for Finland.
“The home crowd gave us a lot of energy to skate through the free programme, we enjoyed every second of our skate today,” Versluis shared.
“We know what we are capable of, we want to achieve even more and this is just the beginning!,” Turkkila added.
Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker’s free dance allowed them to earn 121.53 points and a silver medal that secured their place into a grand prix final for the second time in their career.
“Today there were many moments when we had to zone in on each other and focus our energy, but we were really proud of showing the improvements that we have made this season,” Hawayek said.
“The grand prix final is going to be very exciting, it has been quite a long time since we have seen so much movement in the top six area in ice dance,” Baker added.
Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier’s Evita convinced once again, allowing them to earn 131.69 points, another personal best and the highest qualification marks for the Grand Prix Final.
“Evita is a programme that have been coming up for 11 years now, but never felt like it was the right time as it is quite a difficult one to choreograph”, Gilles shared. “Each moment we step out on the ice we are not looking for scores or medals, we are looking to create moments and this takes a lot of pressure off of us.”
“The next two weeks will be about managing our energy and making sure that we are not too tired entering the Grand Prix Final,” Poirier added.
Grand prix final official qualifications
Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier and Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker took the last two spots available to qualify for the Grand Prix Final to take place in Turin, Italy. Already qualified are Italy’s Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri, USA’s Madison Chock and Evan Bates, Canada’s Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sørensen, and Great Britain’s Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson.